The Cost of Open Records

Two years ago, Governor Culver implemented a policy that allowed state agencies to charge up to $40 per hour to examine government records that were the subject of an open records request by media or the public. This policy has been supported by Attorney General Miller.

These fees cover only the consideration of whether a particular document must legally be disclosed. Those requesting the documents could still incur charges for photocopying or retrieval of records. In addition to appropriateness of high fees, Culver and Miller continue to take the stance that documents considered to be “drafts” or “works in progress” (sometimes including emails) can be withheld.

Recent examples of roadblocks for information seekers include Culver’s emails about a death at a state hospital, records about the film tax credit scandal, and evidence of the state’s role in the Atalissa situation.

Additionally, the Des Moines Register recently requested six weeks worth of emails between the Executive Director of the Department on Aging and the agency’s lobbyist. The Register was told it would cost them $744 for just the examination of the records and consideration of disclosure.

The Register eventually obtained these emails from a source other than the governor’s office. The Register has since been critical of the lack of autonomy of Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman Jeanne Yordi. Emails obtained by the Register evidence that the Department on Aging Director John McCalley and Governor Culver dictated the ombudsmen offices’ public policy opinion on state and federal legislation. This is in direct conflict with federal law that requires Yordi to be an independent advocate for the elder population of Iowa. Sometimes the best interest of the elderly may conflict with the opinions of the Department of Aging and Governor Culver.

Iowa’s Public Records Law is contained in Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code. Specifically, Iowa Code sec. 22.3 provides that the cost imposed for providing a copy of an open record “shall not exceed the cost of providing the service.” This section also allows state agencies to charge “all expenses of the work” and that may include a “reasonable fee” for supervision.